tv Book Discussion on Help Me to Find My People CSPAN June 29, 2014 1:00pm-1:41pm EDT
>> booktv sat down with repressor transport to talk about her book, "help me to find my people," which looks at my separations during slavery and the rest of the unit families after emancipation. this interview is connect on campus of the universe in north carolina and is part of the booktv scholar series. it's about 40 minutes. >> professor heather andrea williams, in 1863, what was generally displeased population in the u.s.? >> probably about 5 million in the american south at that point. slavery had been abolished in northern stayed and i think it
is important to say that just because many people don't realize there have been slavery in the north. by the 1820s it had been places like new york and massachusetts answers lavery then continued in the south to about 5 million. >> host: of those 5 million, how many do you think were displaced from families? >> guest: it is so difficult for me to speak in terms of numbers. it really is because i get it thin pieces of information and part of the point of the work i do is nobody was really keeping track of these people. and so when the work i've done, i point out on everybody else's separation. not every enslaved person, but large numbers of them did. but i can't say of most of them dead or as a third of them did. michael taubman, who is a geographer has estimated that
about a third of enslaved children experience separation of some sort. so maybe they were sold away from their parent or one of the other parent was sold away. so he estimates about an alien peep of were taken from the upper south to the lower south as part of a domestic way of trade. but as to how many of them have family disruptions, it is really hard to figure out the precise numbers. i kind of strategies they away from that. i just know a lot of people experience separation. you might go with your mother if you're a child, but you may leave your father behind in your father may have been told the forward. you may be leaving your grand leaving your grandparents behind him as a distraction have in a lot of different ways. >> host: in your most recent look, "help me to find my people," where did the title come from? >> guest: it comes from and add that people placed at the
news papers following the civil war. so the civil war ended 1865, april 1865 and by october of 1865, we start to see the ad people placed in newspapers looking for family members. and they kept placing these ads of various people up until about 1903 is the last date i can find them at. so this is language from one of them. >> host: i don't know if you can see this at all. can you read that? >> guest: i don't know if i can read it from over there, but it was placed by thorton copeland and it was in the nashville -- the color tennessean of nashville tennessee appeared in october of 1865. and i'm going to try and read it. it says information is wanted of my mother whom i left in fauquier county, virginia in
1841. i think i need to have a closer to me. is that possible? she placed this ad in 1865 and i think it is 1844 if i'm remembering that correctly. i couldn't really get there. but he had been apart from his mother for 21 years and he was looking for her and it's these ads that got him going thinking about this book in about what separation was like for people. >> host: what kind of records are kept by the slave traders, slaveowners, slave families? >> guest: i think also sail, but they are scattered. so you may go to the archives and find the papers of prominent slaveholding family. the more prominent daywear, the more likely they were to have kept the records and the more
likely the families were to pass them onto archives so that the historian can come in and read them at this point. so you might find bills of sale that would list the name of the purchase or the of the seller and usually a first name and a description of the person being purchased or sold, and h., sex, possibly a first name. so you get those kinds of documents. in journals, as some fantasized angler releases tedious than just paid close attention to the detail of the operation of the plantation. so every morning the planter might come in and write down how many bushels of corn was given to be fair to the hogs, how many russian were given to the plate people that we were that day. they might have list of
families, enslaved people on the plantation and often for a family. at least according to the mother if he has the ownership of the children passed through the mother and so that was the important thing. if you owned this lament, that any of her offspring along to you despite all a matter of the father of the children may have belonged to. and so they might have those kinds of groupings. people might show up in a slave sent, but usually not even a name, just find them here. the number of people somebody owned. so it's very, very hard to get this information. you get journals, diaries the planters kept and that can be a really important source of information because they are talking about what they may have to sell for who they are planning to sell or who's run sell or whose runaway and i talk about threats to their lives and conference patience at the plate people were rumors of plots by
enslaved people. and so, you get some information in that way as well. >> host: professor williams, were you surprised that the number of slaves that could read and write to put these that? >> guest: well, my first book was called a self-taught, african-american education and slavery and freedom. so i had spent any years working on a book about literacy. again, i can never tell. w. e. b. dubois estimated at the end of slavery about 5% of people coming out of slavery were literate. but i don't know where they got the number from. i cannot put a number to it. so i'd written a book about people's deep desire for literacy during slavery and makes for a lot of the reasons they wanted to have it. one reason was to be able to write a pass because an african-american leather enslaved are free, you needed
written permission to write about the land tape in the south. people want to learn how to read and write to the will to forge a pass. frederick douglass gives us the text of the past he wrote when he escaped. and so, i knew that some people were literate, but i have not really -- what surprised me was people were using their literacy to find family words, to track them down during slavery and after slavery. so when i see an ad written notice placed by thorton copeland, i am not positive thorton copeland wrote that himself. i don't know if he's literate. that's all i got is what he tells me in that. so he may have been moderate or the editor of the news paper, the tennessean could've written it, so he may have dictated it. i was surprised to see so many people are to search for family
members during slavery. >> from your book, obadiah filled lived in rockingham, north carolina, purchasing people in virginia, north carolina and south carolina first they'll to south carolina. he corresponded with his wife, jane commit during his trips come informing her of the progress of business and expressing his love for her and her four children. it is evident that intellectually and emotionally he kept the slave sees old in the family he loved in various efforts bases. quote, loving wife he wrote, this will inform you of where a hymn at this time. i am well. i have sold all but four. i shall leave this place also to hunt a market for the balance of the i have on hand. this is my sail from what i have sold. he goes on to list what he has sold. rachel: $400. even $525.
kerry and children $675. amy $300, it better. >> guest: ray. and i found this document and the archive and the arc of a sad there was an archivist that said these documents to ascertain the price of slaves at this particular time. however when i read the document, and this particular document, what i saw was the kind of compartmentalization that i ink slaveowners in the slave traders he's writing a note to his life and is telling about her people. i'm still baffled why he names them. he talks about them in terms of their monetary value.
i'm not list you also seahorses listed with the were as he called them. he sending her an extra $10. give my love to her children. i'm hoping to be home by christmas. so when i see they are issued each of those sales he was likely separating people. he had purchased them from somebody or firms grow auction. we don't know. so they had probably experienced some sort of family separation by being within at least moving further south. he is selling them possibly individually. the rachel might have a child or might've had a child or so he is
separating families. at the same time, he is feeling the loss of his own temporary separation from his family. so what i wanted to talk about was we can see all slaveowners are terrible people, they didn't care. but they had the capacity to care and not as robust important to me. he could be a loving heart and then he could also be a slave trader. i wanted to look at that because i think that is how a system like slavery was able to survive. the systems in our society are able to survive because you think of yourself in your feelings at being different and it's been paramount to other people's feelings. it's okay to sell a mother, be you cannot get back to your wife and children and you're not ever making those connections. >> host: did slave owners, did they care about that breeding slaves families? was it a policy in any way?
was important to keep them separated? or was it economically valuable. >> guest: it was economically valuable. frederick douglass makes this argument in his narrative, which i don't really buy. he says he only saw his mother at night because she worked some or she worked summerall said she would sneak from her plantation today. he says slaveowners wanted to keep people separate so that they wouldn't form emotional bonds. i don't think they thought about it to that degree. i'm not really sure that was there any purpose. i think it was an economic decision. their wealth lay of the land and slaves than slaves were much more portable, much more mobile. you could much more easily sell in its latest pay your bills. thomas jefferson when he was in debt with all people.
he entertained t. need to pay for the one comments better. he would tell people much easier than part of his land, part of his holding that made him this important person starting at the top of the hill. so that is where their wealth lay then they would tell people. my sense is most slaveowners didn't take about it, didn't care. this is the society in which they had grown up in early on the society they created. you see in legislation with a separate blacks and whites were different kinds of treatment and they are identifying, labeling blacks as inferior to white them out would of course applies to the motion says well. they don't feel it deeply as we do. so i don't think i spent a lot of time taking about it. however, i do talk about a slave owner named thomas chaplin from
south carolina and in his journal i found passages where he was talking about having to sell 10 people. again, he was in debt enslave people newcomen the adults knew when the owners were and that is dangerous for them. when their owners died, this is dangerous for them because they might be handed down. they might be passed out to other people you sold to pay debts for his. so chaplains but i'm time talking about his ordeal. he says that is a terrible thing to have to go and pick out 10 people. and many names for 10 people. he said i enforced to do it because the sheriff is going to come and levy. basically the sheriff is going to come in for close or pull some of his property from him and tell them that the market. so he decides to intervene and send them to charleston to be sold so he could make it much money at possible.
pay the debt and still have some left. but what is really interesting about chaplin is that he gives us the name, the 10 names and then he talks about their feeling and he says that the people who are left on the plantation, the families left behind are disconsolate, then maybe they will see their children again. so i use chaplin quite a bit because i wanted it can't say this was possible. this man is capable of not just caring about his family, but also caring about these other families. he understood. he could not say they don't care, they don't feel as deeply as we do. he knew that they cared. they were upset, crying. he avoids them. he would not go down to the slave quarters. he sent agents down there to pull out the 10 people. he is kind of hiding in the
curtains, looking as they leave on the bull. so he cared about them in that sense. but he sold them and interestingly after the war, his handwritten journals are in an archive and you the journal and after the lawyer and wrote in the margins at significant points. he wants to make some commentary on what had been happening. at that point where he was talking about selling people in feeling so badly and people will laugh at me and think i'm not in control and if i had realized how ungrateful the with dna would leave us when i the chance, i would have cared about them. i would've put them on my pocket, meaning i would've sold them. and others would have done the same. basically the union and the
white owners on the island fled. chaplin turned to one of the many elements that take care of things for me until i get back. when he got back a war was over, and so now he's calling that ungrateful. so that statements you may suggests he really had been concerned about them despite the fact he sold them anyway. if i had only known they were loyal to me, when given the choice between staying with me and taking their freedom, they took their freedom. if i know not, i wouldn't have spent my time being can turned about it. >> host: back to your book, while most other states except manage but this vestiges of french song catholic church in for vedic knowledge marriage
like relationships, but the state tonight ways any legal marital. >> guest: right. and the louisiana came that close this and that saying the people formed these marriage like relationships, but none of the slave states allowed incites people to legally marry. the reason was marriage is a contract from a legally binding contract is matches the ink about love and special commitment to each other. it is the legal commitment we make and that is why you can't just decide i'm not married anymore. you've got to go through another legal process. in life people were not bitter people, legal persons do not
dance. they could not enter into contracts because then what would that mean about the rights of an owner. if you have a legally binding contract that says you are husband and wife and you are to stay together, that is going to interfere with the legal right the owner to sell people apart. so owners might perform wedding ceremonies for there is life people, the the title of the chapter is let no man put asunder because so many slaves said when they perform ceremonies, they never said what no man put asunder. so i went and looked at the book of common prayer and about just to see what the ceremonies, you know, whether the marriage vows that i know of in our time were in place then and they were very much in place. but those words were left out at
the marriage ceremony because these people it put asunder. their marriage could be put asunder when an owner decided to. professor williams was third averaged plantation side as far as how many slaves lived among plantation? >> guest: you know, somebody probably knows that number, but it really very nice state. it varied right time. in north carolina, for an instrumental holdings tended to be pretty small. about 20 people. but about 20 minutes from where we are right now, there is a plantation that had 900 enslaved people. the stock go plantation. i think most whites in the south did not have any slaves. those that did on small numbers usually a minute that the
planters in places like virginia or like in north carolina they were sunlight that. south carolina, huge plantation holdings. thomas chaplin who i've been talking about at st. helena is 70 people given to him and his father's will when he was 17, thomas chaplin was 17 years old he inherited 70 people in struggle to hold onto them because he didn't know what he was doing. he was engaging in a dignity he could afford. so it varied quite a bit. but i am sure somebody has a number. i just don't know what it is. >> host: stories of reunification is gerson is to document what happened after the initial moment of joy are more bears still. >> guest: yes. putting this book together, i divided it into three parts. the first part of separation.
the first part is to search for family, during slavery and after slavery and the third is reunification. the first part has three chapters to separation has three chapters. the search has two chapters in reunification has one chapter. i really think that speaks to probably not the right -- the correct proportions, but i think there were many, many more separations than they were reunification. people might be taken from virginia when tobacco became less economically valuable. people in virginia were selling people and at the same time, you got the expansion of the u.s. into places like mississippi, alabama, texas. so people are being sold from virginia into places like alabama appeared from north
carolina to alabama, mississippi, starting new plantations. so people are being sent him a sometimes family members commit very often without there being separated and reunification could really take place. during the search people are writing letters back to the places where they had left their family members, hoping to find them. people run away. if you look at runaway ads published in newspapers in the antebellum period, very often they would say i think he is headed back to find his mother or i think he is headed to memphis where he has basis for who i also own. or he may be on this plantation because he has a wife there. so many people were escaping during slavery, trying to get back to family members. some guy to the place of the people work on or had died or have been told away and after the war is when you get this really dedicated surge of just
thousands of people looking for a family heirs, leaping on foot to try to find them and going from georgia to north carolina to get back to radio radio blasting the family. but it is very, very difficult. nobody had kept records. i find one of the really important sources is the freedman's bureau record straight after the work on the federal government set up the freedman's bureau and one of the things african-americans decide it was that this could be a place that could help them to find families. setting up schools, helping a black communities with schools, but african-americans are turning to them for helping so i see a letter from virginia where family says their son was taken to new orleans and the traitor who took them to new orleans. we think he is in new orleans and this particular agent
actually went out into the african-american community, try to find any information about this young man, when it found the slave trade to the slave traders said i sold a lot of people. i don't know where they are. i don't have any records of them. maybe the company has a record. slavery is over, so very, very difficult to find people because nobody had kept track of them. a particular owner of his possessions or her possessions, but not in the sense of keeping any thoughts of a family in mind. so it was just very difficult to find family members. >> host: when it came to the slave trade, how important was new orleans? >> guest: new orleans was one of the very important for us. you've got places like richmond, virginia. you've got charros then, new
orleans. it is a place where many thousands of people were sold here they had a slave trade markets and there's been quite a bit of research done on new orleans. the charleston was another place where slave trading to place right out on the street. washington d.c. to waste right out on the street. ec abolitionists writing that and say what a disgrace and in the shadow of the nation's cap though you've seen people being sold. places like new orleans moved to trading in side to take it off the street. you can still see some of these places. in charleston, for instance, there is a museum in the ground that used to be one of these auction house says. >> host: of the 5 million population 1863, what percentage
tried to escape? >> guest: again, terrible with numbers. during slavery, lots of men particularly come as someone name escapes or attempted to escape and we know this through the sides. so black people showed up in hats in the 19th century in a few ways. they showed up as property being offered first they'll are somebody saying i want to purchase people. and then you see them as runaway slaves or owners looking for them and after the war you see the information where they are the ones actually placing the ad. so it's just really hard to know what the numbers were. >> host: how do you research a book like this? >> guest: first of all you kind of get bitten by some pain and you just want to know.
i started seeing these ads when i was working on my dissertation. i wanted to know more about the people and i wanted to know about their feelings. i know when i read these ads, like the ad that horton copeland wrote where he's looking for his mother, her name is betty. that's the only name he has. he gives names that the owners and the slave trade because maybe these white men's names would be recognized. so that really got to me and i was moved by it and i wanted to know more about them. first it's the commitment. you have to really want to know. and then you start going to archives. the southern has oracle collection. duke university special collections. library of virginia. lots of universe these nfl how these brilliant, wonderful collections. and then you go to the historical society's and then the national archives in d.c. to
look at the freedman's bureau papers or military service record. austin you just find little scraps of information. so i find and add the horton copeland played. i don't know anything else about sportcoat and. if i am not sure it is 10, but i'm not going to say that it is headed. there have got to be indicators. if i see third copeland and a woman named betty older than hand-delivered espousal maybe i can date that is horton copeland and his mother. just thought those little pieces of information. one of the really great things when you do research is people's heart to send you stuff. so other colleagues who know about your work. people in my department. graduate students because they are out doing their research in the e-mail and say heather, i found this ad in this paper and i hadn't known about this
newspaper. somebody said me a clipping that she found about a world's fair kind of exhibition or in old lock women placed information about people who had been lost during slavery. so this is in the 20th century. as she wanted people to remember that there had been slavery and slavery had met separation of families. so people start to send you information. somebody sent me something from the shop heard in new york in sunday came across this when i was doing my race or 10 hours on a plane to new york and went to the schaumburg and found a letter that in late man had written. he dictated it to his slave owners wife and sent it to his wife who had been taken away. and so, it is just a thought of digging, lots of trying to figure out how things work. i found one letter in virginia
and. i start the first job. it where it says a friend of mine has a fine lack boy for sale. he's not very big. he's about 12 years old but he stopped. you better hurry if you want him. i read that and i heard myself gasp in this quiet, cold archive because the way this child was being described, even though my work is on flavor enemies to be treated as property, it was stunning to me to see it in those harsh terms. i thought what am i going to do with this? at another voice known. what am i going to do with this? i told my students if you find that they become a look at it. turn it upside down, shape it, try to figure it out. i've used it to frame the chapter to say i don't know about this boy, but i want to know about other boys and other
growths experience separationist children. so i framed frame double chapter around that letter where i have people who tell about their experience isn't slave narratives. we talked about the sources of white people created, but the sources that african-americans created aren't slave narratives, long narratives in which they tell you their life story and separation is often a part of that story, whether there is separation or something they observed from some of the else. the interviews the federal government set people up to do during the great depression to put people to work, but they went and interviewed former slaves who by then were in seven is an 80s, times 90s. i talk about the genealogies of separation that these people want to ascribe into the historical record. the interviewer, often a white
person from the south is asking them, tell us about folk stories. tell us what you remember eating. the purse once to save my father was sold away from us or my grandmother didn't come with us when we were sold. they want to tell what's been passed down to them by family and about family separation. so i look at all of those references and materials and try to quds drops and stories around these peoples lives. >> host: who is this? >> guest: i'm trying to remember his name. charlie crom from raleigh north carolina. you know, charlie crom does not appear that look in that text. but this is a picture that was taken by the wpa, the works progress administration and he is someone who was interviewed. he has about a three-page interview. he talks about slavery and being
sold. but i used that picture at the end of the book because it is charlie crom photographed with his granddaughter. what that says to me is a message about the bible and people going through the ordeals of slavery. i always want to say that slavery was fertile and awful and painful, but people also found ways to live, most people did. otherwise, they would not have survived it. some people i think mentally -- people just lost their minds are people sink into depression, especially around depressions. people were for the most part brilliant. they kept going. they kept forming new families, even as they were holding on and we know this from these ads are from the letters are searches. so they are sold, separated. they keep going. they keep living and they are
holding on to the memories and the desire to be with the people again. so charlie crom and that's granddaughter for me represent defensive resilience and people came out of slavery and some of them came out with family members in this child is probably bored -- was born after slavery because the picture was taken in the 1930s. so it is about the continuation of the people and that these particular individuals and sort of the line that continues into the unit, 21st century. >> host: finally, professor, why did you choose this for the cover? >> guest: on the cover is a picture of a quilt that i made and i made this quilt -- my
first book has a picture of a quilt that i made, but i just made the quilt a kind of came out of the research and somebody said to me, that shouldn't be on the cover of your book. for this book i found out to make a quilt for the cover and for me the address is the address of a child, a little girl, but there's no little girl in the picture. so on the cover of the book i want to start the about loss in abstinence. i don't know if it can be seen with this, but beneath the dress traced over the handwriting of a woman named violet laster who wrote a letter to her armor mistress. so farmers slaveowner, asking about her daughter, saying she was taken from me. they said they were going to take her to greensboro or goldsboro, north carolina and i want to know what happened to
her because violet laster -- the women who she was writing to, her family had sold out at lester. lester documents how many times she had been sold since that fail and she was now in georgia if i am remembering correctly. her current owner said he would be willing to purchase lester's child if she could get information and if the people were willing to sell. so i traced over violet laster's letter, talking about her missing child, her absent child to pair with the dress furthers no child. >> host: "help me to find my people: the african american search for family lost in slavery" is the name of the book. the university of north carolina history professor, heather andrea williams. mrs. booktv on c-span2.
>> university of north carolina political science professor, virginia gray is the co-author of this hook. "interest groups and health care reform across the united states" . professor gray, how did you get involved in the health care world? >> guest: well, i was a member of the board of directors of a large hmo in minneapolis and eventually i became a chaired the board. as a consumer board, a nonprofit hmo. that led me to be interested in most of my work is on public policy and state politics. so it is definitely a hot topic at the state level as well as the national level. so it was a pretty naturalf